The FBI spied J. Everett Dutschke trying to dispose of items he’s suspected of using to make ricin on the same day he was mentioned in court as someone who might want to frame another man for sending a poison-laced letter to President Barack Obama, according to a court filing.
An FBI mobile surveillance team had watched Dutschke on April 22 as he visited his former Taekwondo business in Tupelo, Mississippi, exited with several items and then drove a short distance before dumping them in a public trash bin, according to an affidavit released yesterday.
Agents recovered a coffee-grinder box, latex gloves and an empty bucket, as well as a dust mask that tested positive for ricin, a deadly chemical made from castor beans, according to the affidavit.
Dutschke, 41, a former martial arts instructor from Tupelo, was arrested on April 27, four days after federal prosecutors dropped charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Mississippi.
Details of how the government’s suspicion shifted quickly from Curtis to Dutschke were laid out in an April 26 affidavit by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Stephen E. Thomason that was ordered unsealed yesterday by U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander in Oxford, Mississippi.
George Lucas, a federal public defender representing Dutschke, declined to comment on the affidavit contents.
Dutschke is charged with knowingly producing a biological agent for use as a weapon, and may face life in prison if convicted, the FBI said in an April 27 statement. He is being held pending a bail hearing set for May 2.
Curtis and members of his family told the FBI that Dutschke and Curtis “have known each other for several years and have had a contentious personal relationship which has manifested itself in e-mail traffic and social media postings,” according to Thomason’s affidavit.
Curtis was arrested April 17 and accused of sending ricin-tainted letters to Obama, a Democrat, and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, that were intercepted in the mail the day before. The signoffs in the letters and the concerns expressed in them were similar to notes that Curtis had previously mailed to public officials.
Each of the letters read, in part: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die. This must stop. To see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner in its continuance. I am KC and I approve this message.”
An FBI agent testified at an April 22 court hearing that searches failed to turn up any trace of ricin at Curtis’s home, or in his vehicle, or the homes of his ex-wife and parents. A preliminary analysis of his personal computer also found nothing related to ricin, agent Brandon Grant said.
During the hearing, Curtis’s attorney, Christi McCoy, raised the possibility that he was being framed by Dutschke, with whom she said Curtis had a long-running e-mail feud “over who is the biggest liar on their website.” She also said Curtis’s public activism on the Internet may have led someone to appropriate his writings into the ricin scheme.
FBI agents on April 24 obtained records indicating Dutschke had ordered castor bean seeds using eBay Inc.’s online marketplace in November and paid for them through its PayPal service, according to Thomason’s affidavit.
“He made a second purchase of 50 red castor bean seeds on or about Dec. 1, 2012,” the FBI agent said.
Ricin is harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested and has no known antidote, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“I know that a coffee bean grinder could be utilized in the process of extracting ricin from castor beans,” Thomason said in the affidavit. “Latex gloves and a dust mask could be utilized as personal protect equipment while the castor beans are being crushed to protect the producer from an accidental exposure.”
Preliminary tests also confirmed the presence of ricin inside the studio, according to the affidavit.
The case is U.S. v. Dutschke, 13-mj-00020, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).